The big guns finally emerged on the courts at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters to successfully open their clay court campaigns which they hope will lead to French Open success in June on day Dan Evans followed up his early success with another great win.
It was a very good encounter. I thought it was a great first match, a big challenge for me,. I just hung in there today and managed to find the right shots and the right game at the right time. Novak Djokovic
The British No.1, currently ranked 33, reached the third round with a solid performance to eliminate the Polish 13th seed Hubert Hurkacz, the Miami Masters champion who is believed to be suffering from some illness, 6-4 6-1 for his second win on European clay after a barren four-year period.
“I am a bit more comfortable with the gap playing on clay than last year,” Evans, 30, told Amazon Prime Sport.
“It has been a bit easier to move, I have been accepting it a bit more and enjoying it.
“I have been better in practice and getting on if I have not been playing so well.”
Further humiliation though, was heaped on the 24-year-old Polish No.1, world ranked 16, when no one turned up for his press conference having been requested to attend one by the media.
“Nice press conference, thanks everyone,” the disappointed Hurkacz commented on leaving the venue.
Unfortunately for him the main attention focused on Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal who haven’t been seen on a court since Australia, with comfortable victories following first round byes.
Djokovic produced a clinical 6-4 6-2 win over the up-and-coming Italian teenager Jannik Sinner before Nadal — an 11-time champion at the Country Club — defeated Federico Delbonis 6-1 6-2.
Sinner was expected to give the world No.1 a stern test and while Djokovic was impressed by the youngster’s performance, he went on to improve his record for the season to 10 wins with no losses.
“It was a very good encounter. I thought it was a great first match, a big challenge for me,” the Serb who resides in Monaco, said.
“I just hung in there today and managed to find the right shots and the right game at the right time.”
Sinner, who arrived in Monte Carlo following a runner-up finish in Miami, saved two match points but was too often troubled by Djokovic’s mix of baseline attacks and subtle drop shots. The 19-year-old Sinner bowed out on a double-fault.
”I felt good, solid is a good word to describe it. I have to be satisfied considering the tough draw. I walked into the court with the right focus and intensity. After first 3-4 games, I started to get into rhythm. I tried to move him and use the angles well,” Djokovic said but refused to make any comparison with his early self.
”I don’t like to compare even to my younger self, let alone someone else.
“Sinner is already an established player. What impresses me the most is his dedication to everyday routines, hence the consistency, which is not always the case for a young player. He is mature,” Djokovic added before looking ahead to his next match with Britain’s Evans.
”Very smart player. You would think that clay would suit his game style least, but he is proving people wrong. He is dynamic, has a lot of variety with the slice, great forehand. I am going to talk to few people and my coach, to prepare in the best way,” Djokovic said of the Brit.
Djokovic’s main rival, Rafa Nadal, whom he expects to meet in Sunday’s final, swept past Delbonis, the Argentine qualifier, and was always in complete control in his opener despite dropping his serve once.
“I think I just really played a solid match. Nothing unbelievable, but nothing wrong,” Nadal said. “Just a solid match, a positive start.”
Questioned about being in contact with Daniil Medvedev during a practice session when the Russian tested positive and forced to withdraw, Nadal was not overworried about contracting the virus.
“I was not worried because I practised with him, but I was never close to him,” Nadal, 34, said. “When these things happen, it is not good. But I felt sorry for him more than for me.
“I was never in touch with him, never closer than four meters, only at the end to say thanks for one second. But anything can happen, of course.”
Defending champion Italy’s Fabio Fognini also advanced to the third round, beating Aussie Jordan Thompson 6-3 6-3.
Fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas progressed with a 6-3 6-4 win over Russia’s Aslan Karatsev and Alexander Zverev of Germany, the fifth seed, defeated Lorenzo Sonego of Italy 6-3 6-3.
Also, Norway’s Casper Ruud produced the upset of the day when he defeated the ninth seed from Argentina, Diego Schwartzman 6-3 6-3.